IMG 9261 e1373602609201 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

Nintendo’s always marched to the beat of its own drum, and E3 2013 was no different. Rather than trying to one-up Microsoft and Sony’s respective conferences (and after their showings, who could blame them), Nintendo opted for a smaller, more intimate gathering of press, where Reggie Fils-Aime, Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and others could discuss their new games, and unleash us directly upon them. Nintendo’s in a precarious position — in an industry with not one, but two new high-powered consoles on the horizon, they need to prove that their games can speak for themselves. We got a chance to play a handful of them — let’s take a look.

Wii U

WiiU MarioKart8 scrn01 E3 e1373602764793 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

Mario Kart 8

I’ll admit it — I haven’t really been that into a Mario Kart game since the Nintendo 64 days. Sure, I’ve played the ones on the DS and Wii, and they’ve been fun, but I feel like there hasn’t been much to be excited about since the 64-bit edition essentially wrote the book on 3D kart racing.

Mario Kart 8 changes all of that, and does it in a seemingly unimportant way — the ability to drive upside down.

It’s not game changing in any way — the cars don’t drive differently whether they’re on the ceiling or not (though they do have the ability to change into hang gliders when flying through the air like in Mario Kart 7). But the ability to drive up the walls adds a whole new level of visual flair, making the track I drove on at E3 one of the most exciting I’ve played in years.

The 1080p resolution and constant 60 frames per second doesn’t hurt either.

No new battle items were shown — just your shells, bananas, and the like — but Nintendo announced one new feature that seems interesting: Mario Kart TV. Players can share videos of their races on the Miiverse, including broadcasting up to 12-player online matches.

Mario Kart’s always been fun, but it’s never felt as necessary as it has right at this moment. Look for Mario Kart 8 in Spring 2014.

WiiU Pikmin3 scrn05 E3 e1373602860569 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

Pikmin 3

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a chance to explore the miniscule world of Captain Olimar, and his plant friends, and come August 4th, we’ll be able to run through the wilds, looking for alien artifacts in Nintendo’s latest interpretation of the real-time strategy genre.

Along with the main story campaign (featuring three different playable characters), Pikmin 3 features a Challenge mode (pitting you against the clock as you collect as many valuablesw as possible) and Bingo Battle mode, a multiplayer match that has players filling out a bingo card with the various items they collect along the way.  I was able to get hands-on with the challenge mode, and it’s just as good as I remember

The game plays pretty much the same as it ever has: control your intrepid little explorer and command various plant people known as Pikmin to do your bidding. You’ll run around lush forests (this time in high-definition), tossing your Pikmin at all of your problems. Need to carry items back to your ship? Use your Pikmin to carry it. Giant bug attacking you? Your Pikmin will do your dirty work for you. Pikmin come in all sorts of colors and types — Blue Pikmin can swim in water, while new types like Rock Pikmin can destroy special barriers. You have to run around each level, managing your time and Pikmin efficiently to collect as many gems as possible for the highest score.

It feels just as great as it did back on the GameCube, and the Wii U offers several different control schemes, allowing you to choose how you want to play. The GamePad offers more conventional controls, while the Wii Remote and Nunchuck allow for more precise Pikmin launching. Regardless, the GamePad also doubles as an overhead map of the area, and you can use it to send Pikmin to different areas on the map. I wonder exactly how necessary this feature will be, but using the touch screen to multitask your units seems like the best solution to the age old RTS-on-console problem: being able to control numerous characters and do multiple things at once.

It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is almost over. Pikmin 3 hits Wii U consoles on August 4th — it remains to be seen whether this will be the one that convinces people to run out and purchase a Wii U.

WiiU SuperMario scrn08 E3 e1373602949343 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

Super Mario 3D World

This… was not what I was expecting. Part of me was hoping for some kind of grandiose adventure similar to the Super Mario Galaxy games, but the more I think about it (and after hopping back into Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS again) the more I realize that 3D world is going to be stellar addition to the Mario franchise.

There are three big changes to the Mario formula that help Super Mario 3D World stand out from its predecessors:

1) Four player madness — Multiplayer Mario action has been strictly relegated to the sidescrolling “New” series of Mario games, and while fun, has been known to be a bit claustrophobic, causing players to hop on top of each other and launch each other into spike pits, lava pits, and bottomless pits. Super Mario 3D World, however, features much more open levels due to the full 360 degrees of movement provided in a true 3D environment. Now, players can enjoy a multiplayer Mario game without killing each other every other step of the way.

Plus, instead of relegating other players as generic Toads, the roster is much more filled out, a la Super Mario Bros. 2. Players can choose between Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach, and each character controls differently — Luigi jumps higher than everyone, while Peach can hover, just like in Mario Bros. 2.

2) The Cat Suit — A new addition to 3D World, the cat suit allows each player to climb up walls and pounce on enemies. It adds a new twist to the standard Mario gameplay, and should sit nicely with the Raccoon Leaf and Fire Flower. I didn’t get too much of a chance to explore a lot of the puzzle possibilities with it, but I’m excited to see what they do with it.

3) Transparent pipes — Hear me out. It’s not just that you go in a pipe and can see through it, these pipes add a whole new set of puzzling to figure out. You launch yourself into the pipes, flying through, trying to figure out the best way to maneuver through, avoiding the baddies inside, and grabbing all the hidden goodies inside. There’s a fantastic sense of momentum inside these pipes, and I can’t wait to see how far Nintendo’s gone with them.

There’s a certain unpretentious quality in Super Mario games — they’re just pure, unadulterated fun, and Super Mario 3D world looks like it won’t be any different. That’s why we awarded Super Mario 3D World Best Wii U Game of E3. Look for it in December.

WiiU ZeldaWW scrn11 E3 e1373603081315 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

There’s not much to be said about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that hasn’t been said already. The cartoony graphics — while polarizing when first revealed — have since stood the test of time. Link’s big beady eyes express emotion, the vibrant colors and swift animations evoke the same sort of sweeping, grandiose emotions felt while watching Hayao Miyazaki movies, and the gameplay (save for the whole Triforce quest… ugh…) still represents the greatest Zelda experience since A Link to the Past. It’s a fantastic game, and it’s a perfect choice for the HD treatment.

E3 is a difficult place to demo a game like The Wind Waker, since the demo just plopped us into the beginning of the game — and if anyone has played a Zelda game in recent memory, the intro is usually a pretty slow burn. But playing with the GamePad felt just as natural as playing with a Gamecube controller, and having the screen to manage inventory and maps is pretty handy.

New features to the Wii U version of The Wind Waker includes high-def 1080p visuals, and it looks gorgeous. Players will also be able to find a “Tingle Bottle,” which will let them send messages through the Miiverse, with random pictures and quotes washing up on the shores of the various islands of the game. A bit more practical is a new sail that improves sailing speed exponentially, making sailing — which could be a bit of a slog — much more expedient. The entire game can also be played on the GamePad — handy for those with families who like to hog the TV.

Of all the companies with a well of stellar content ripe for HD-ification, Nintendo has a huge catalog ready for the ol’ double dip. Now that they’ve finally got a system capable of high-definition output, hopefully we’ll see more games receive the treatment. But, of all the games Nintendo could have chosen, there aren’t much better than The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Look for it in October — it should tide us over until Nintendo finishes the next new Zelda game.

WiiU Wonder101 scrn05 E3 e1373603172121 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

The Wonderful 101

Ever since Nintendo announced The Wonderful 101, I’ve been dying to get my hands on it. Now that I finally have, I must say — this game is damn fun.

In The Wonderful 101, you play as Wonder-Red, the leader of a group of super heroes, tasked with saving the day — and they must work together to do so. Using the GamePad’s touch screen or analog stick, you’ll draw various shapes in order to group your heroes together and transform your mass of super heroes into giant weapons. A straight line creates a massive sword, while an L-shape creates a gun — the larger the shape, the larger and more powerful the weapon.

The team over at Platinum Games have taken this entire theme and ran with with it. Each time you take damage, bits of your weapon will crumble and transform back into people again, and you’ll have to run around the stage to pick them up. The bullets you fire out of the gun are the heroes that follow you — they’ll launch themselves out of the gun and bounce against your foes. The zoomed out isometric angle really gives you a fantastic birds-eye view of all of the people in your employ, and the giant weapons you’ll transform into.

I got a chance to play multiplayer, and wow — it’s a fantastic blend of controlled insanity. Both players split the 100 heroes between them, and each player is transforming and attacking and there’s so much going on, but it’s still easy to understand everything that’s going on on screen.

It was hard to say how well The Wonderful 101 was going to turn out from screenshots, but this is clearly a game for gamers. A new IP, a unique control scheme, and frenetic multiplayer? Who says the Wii U doesn’t have games? The Wonderful 101 will be released September 15th.

3DS

3DS YoshisNew scrn10 E3 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

Yoshi’s New Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of my all-time favorite games, it’s one I can visualize and hear in my head clearly when I reminisce on the days I was playing it on the SNES. The way the enemies looked when they grew dramatically, the sound of collecting red coins, the music during boss battles…. The game felt unique in so many ways. It was unlike anything else I had experienced that generation and I loved every minute of it, so the prospect of a new Yoshi’s Island on the 3DS is an appetizing one.

Playing Yoshi’s New Island 3DS didn’t do much to rekindle the fond memories I have of its predecessor. On the surface it looks, sounds, and plays much like the original, but somehow it manages to lose the spark. The gameplay mechanics are mostly the same from what I can tell, the player controls Yoshi who runs, hops, stomps, and shoots eggs all the same. There’s a lot of hidden areas within the levels which warrants deeper exploration if you want to find the hidden collectibles, again like the SNES game. One thing that’s new is the destructibility of the levels; It’s not exactly Red Faction, but Yoshi can launch giant eggs which destroy some of the environment, paving the way to new areas of the level.

The sights and sounds of the game remain intact, but it isn’t interesting. The level design isn’t weird and unique quite like the original, it felt ho-hum. Perhaps it was the particular level that was being demoed at the show, but I simply wasn’t drawn into the game based on what I was experiencing. I’m hoping the issue is that I had a horrible case of rose colored glasses while playing, because if not we might be looking at an average platformer at best.

3DS Zelda scrn01 E3 Nintendo proves that the games are what matters

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

As E3 drew to a close, I thought I’d seen it all. I’d been impressed by Titanfall, surprised by Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, and drooled over Destiny and The Division. But, within the last half hour of the show, all of that disappeared out of mind when I spent a few minutes playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

The first thing I noticed about A Link Between Worlds is how smooth everything runs. This game flows at a steady 60 frames per second, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that makes — especially with the 3D slider turned on. The higher the frame rate, the better and less painful the 3D effect is, and at 60 frames per second, turning 3D on means no bleary-eyed motion headaches, and some incredible pop from the visuals.

On top of that are some incredibly nostalgia-inducing sound effects and music, which appear to be ripped right out of A Link to the Past. Hearing the “plink-plink” of rupees brought back a flood of emotion — hell, they even brought back the mallet.

The twist of A Link Between Worlds is the ability to merge with walls and maneuver through obstacles. It adds a whole new layer of puzzle elements to the game. You think you’re stuck in an area with nowhere to turn, then, BAM — you turn into quasi-hieroglyphics, and walk along the perimeter of the tower, and outside of a barred window. Voila — progress.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is probably the best thing Nintendo’s got going now. It still evokes the feeling of Zelda, using all of its puzzle terminology, but adds a few new wrinkles that make it feel fresh and exciting. That’s why it got our Best 3DS Game of E3 award, and why I’m chomping at the bit to play it come November.